Sunday, July 11, 2010

Contemplations on Polytheism and Gods of the Land

There was a lightness of being in my solitary walk to the library this morning, after yesterday's long-rumbling thunderstorms growling out of the dense haze and heat of the city.[1] For the past two weeks I have been getting up early to hillwalk through the wooded park down the block, and even in the dawn hours everything hung heavy and damp, dark green, sticky, slick with heat, heat, heat. The pond was a low patch of thickening mud, the stream in the ravine a gully of trickling gutter-water between the tree roots. The mulberries from the neighbor's drooping tree were slowly fermenting on the sidewalk, and giving birth whenever someone walked by to a swarm of iridescent flies. This is not exactly unusual for July around here (certainly not as out-of-character as the hotter weather farther north). But the cloudless domed sky fading to muggy gray on the horizons unbroken for so many rainless days became a little disconcerting in a city centered on three rivers and so near a great lake, where the mountains rising to the east back up the westerly winds carrying their rainstorms over the land. We get a lot of rain here in Pittsburgh, but for the past two weeks it seems we've had nothing but hot, thick, hard-to-breate damp — sliced through with burning arrows of sunlight.

So yesterday was a blessing. An early twilight by midafternoon when the storms rolled in, and it was finally cool enough to fall asleep a few hours before midnight for once. For the first time I felt refreshed when waking up this morning, as if I had slept well and without that constant, unidentifiable anxiety that the body seems to absorb and store up from the enforced stillness of long, hot summer days. And the morning is beautiful. During long weeks of constant heat, coolness becomes a kind of abstract in a sun-fogged brain. Jeff and I kept talking about our upcoming vacation in cool, ocean-hedged Acadia National Park, and my trip soon after to Ireland — the misty green lands that my skin and bones remember, like a gift from my ancestors, without ever having been there — but I don't think I could really believe in these things or imagine them with any kind of realism.

Ah, but this morning I can almost taste the very first hint of crisp, cool autumn, sneaking in just after the high, bright peak of the solstice! Walking down the streets of my neighborhood, I had flashbacks to that feeling I used to get during the first weeks of a new semester back in college, when everything was light and fresh and free, with new classes (and, glory be!, new books to devour!) and new faces roaming campus, and a new year ahead. And in all of this, that special kind of solitude, the aloneness of stepping out and away from home, cut loose from routine or rather in the early stages of a new one when it still feels wide and spacious and full of possibility. It was as if heat had become my home, and I thought it would go on being home forever. It is hard to describe, but I could taste it like gentle sunlight — after two weeks I'd almost forgotten that sunlight could feel gentle and smooth, not always burning and oppressive — and light wisps of clouds that go skipping now from horizon to horizon in a cool lake of blue sky, awash in relief. And I am so thankful that my gods, if I have any, are changeable, full of movement and utterly beyond me.

I'm rambling. I'm rambling because I can write again, my wrist fairly good as new thanks to rest and caution, and because to a certain extent I am tired of all the analytical thought I have been slogging through recently in the heat of these past weeks. As I mentioned earlier, I went through an unexpected shake down in faith last week in the wake of the July 4 celebrations on various Pagan blogs hailing Columbia as a goddess of liberty and personification of the country. This bothered me, deeply, and in two ways. First was this terrible sense of repulsion at nation-worship, which seems to me not only misplaced but so obviously easy to bend to nationalism and racism. Patriotism, that self-loving pride in one's country merely because you happened to be born there, has always seemed like thinly disguised racism and bigotry to me (in Ursula Le Guin's book Left Hand of Darkness, a character says: "What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't mistake a virtue of it, or a profession..."). Of the things I have taken away from my Catholic upbringing with gratitude is this notion that the Law of Love, the devotion and care for the imperfect and the seeing of the face of divinity in all beings, makes a mockery of the state, and of all its demarcations and institutions that it guards at so high a price. Which was why this idea of Columbia bothered me in another way, too: that modern Pagans might be so eager, or so desperate, for gods that they'll make them out of anything.

Ecology of Spirit

Maybe that sounds harsh, or intolerant. But I was feeling somewhat betrayed, honestly. I've spent the past few months — and, to a lesser extent, the last few years — seeking out the stories and theologies of Pagans and polytheists in good faith, in an attempt to understand where they're coming from, to learn to see the world the way a polytheist does. I've been sounding the depths of polytheist theology, so to speak, and trying to find my sea-legs, bringing my intuition and personal experience to bear on the philosophy. And though the progress has been slow — and many of the works on "polytheistic theology" have been about as deep as a kiddy pool compared to the complexities and mysteries of Catholic doctrine I grew up with — there are a few things I have learned through the work.

One of the first things that became obvious to me is what I've come to understand as the "ecology of Spirit." Raised Catholic (did I mention that already?), the triune nature of Spirit had always been at the forefront of my theological thoughts, and though I was honestly and truly monotheistic, it was in a One-out-of-many kind of way which made ample room for multiplicity not only at the core of my concept of deity, but in the whole spiritual sphere, with its angels and saints and, though I barely gave them a second thought, its devils and demons. When I began exploring polytheism, I began to understand that the monism underlying some Pagans' conception of Spirit did not jive with my experiences and observations. If I believed in the intimate relationship between the material, physical world and the spiritual world that was its home and source, it seemed unlikely that the embodied world could be so varied, mottled and marvelously complex if the nature of Spirit was a kind of homogenous, undifferentiated aether or spiritual soup. So the beginnings of my own polytheistic theology was this idea of the many-in-the-One, the "ecology of Spirit." This was an ecosystem of living and interrelated beings, some embodied in all the unique ways that embodiment brings, and some just as unique without the solid weight of the body to serve as anchor. The stream and the mulberry tree had their soul in them, and the wind, the ancestors and Shining Ones had their souls as well, like the angels and the egregores, the sunlight and the gods.

But this led me to the firm conviction that, just as in any ecosystem you have both the bacteria and the bison, the plankton and the humpback whale, just so in this ecology of Spirit not everything is a god. Which is not to say that they don't all have Spirit in them, and soul. A human being may have the face of Spirit shining within them, or hidden beneath layers of fear and grime and cynicism. We can treat each other as holy beings of Spirit... but to worship another human being not as God but as a god, to place them up on that pedestal of our longing and expectation, we know well in the human sphere how unhealthy this can be, how demeaning to both the idolized and the idolater. Though my understanding of spiritual ecology lacks the kind of hierarchy found in Catholic theology among the angels and devils, it still makes room for idolatry. What is idolatry, after all, except unbalanced, unhealthy relationship? We might praise and love the stones as stones, and the river as river, and we might honor how they dwell, like us, in Spirit. We might find that, through our attending and gratitude, we come into a relationship with them that is not unlike love and mutual exchange. But part of this love is knowing deeply the soul and being you are in love with, and not mistaking that being for something else, not projecting your own desires for deity or salvation or elevation onto it.

Columbia as Egregore

Now I know, I'm not exactly qualified to say what it is that makes a god a god, not at this point, not with my limited experience. I have a sense of Brigid as most distinctly a deity, a goddess, but in what way? I am still working, waiting and attending to the possibility of articulation on that one. Still, I have some sense that I know when something is not a god. And Columbia — well, the objection welled up in me immediately, with intensity and repulsion. "But she's not real!" I complained to Jeff, "They just made her up." While those who worship the gods of Tolkein's fantasy Middle-Earth or the mythic Klingon heroes of Star Trek may sometimes cause me to sigh and shrug, I feel something a bit more sinister in this praise of Columbia.

Jeff, after some very basic research, summed up the origin of Columbia in a response to one of these recent July 4 posts:

Columbia, a goddess created (or, as [some] say, “revealed”) in the 18th century, was named after Christopher Columbus, the first European known to have enslaved anyone in the New World. Columbus arrived in the Caribbean with the explicit and open intent of capturing slaves and stealing gold, not to mention spreading Catholicism around the world, so it is extremely ironic that the goddess named after him would come to be associated with freedom and plenty. Freedom and plenty for whom?

Phyllis Wheatley, writing in 1776, was the first known person to speak of Columbia as a goddess [...]. Born in Senegal and enslaved at age eight, she was named “Phyllis” after the ship that brought her to America. She was purchased by the rich Wheatley family of Boston, and adopted as their daughter. They gave her an education, and her poetry was read in England and throughout America. She married John Peters, a free black man, in 1778, but he was put in debtor’s prison shortly thereafter, leaving her alone with a sickly infant daughter. In the land of freedom and plenty, she inherited no money from the Wheatleys and, indeed, was legally unable to own property; so she had to set aside her poetry and work as a scullery maid at a boarding house. She died at age 31.

Again, ironic; but I for one am not surprised at how Columbia rewarded her prophet.

It seems blindingly clear to me, with even this small bit of research, that Columbia fits fairly well the definition of an "egregore," a thought-form created by a group or community which then feeds off of the energy and collective imagination of that group and can likewise serve as a source of energy for an individual tapping into that group consciousness. She functions as a mirror, a reflection that amplifies and exaggerates. In that sense, it's not exactly accurate to complain that she "isn't real" — she's as real as the Catholic Church, or Mickey Mouse. Certainly egregores can be used effectively and benevolently, to establish group cohesion and energy-patterning on a communal level. But the egregore can just as easily give rise to a mob-mentality that overrides rational thought and human compassion, that bends all energies into zealotry and hysteria. To worship an egregore as a god... to me there can hardly be a better example of idolatry, of wrong relationship. To worship such an egregore is, in many ways, to worship a flattened and distorted reflection of one's own mind (or group-mind) projected outward onto Spirit in a way that obscures with self-congratulation and self-indulgence. You might as well project your old home movies against the low-lying clouds of the night sky, and mistake the sad and silent pantomimes for the glorious turnings of the sacred celestial bodies.

Ignorance and Unknowing

What's worse is that we, as modern Pagans, know that Columbia is an invention, and we even know to what extent irony, misery and exploitation lurk at the heart of the attributes like liberty and prosperity we would like to ascribe to her. Just look at the poverty and racial inequality sprawling like an ugly shadow away from the shining white marble and perfectly-manicured lawns of the nation's capital buildings in the "district of Columbia" (the white marble columns and statues themselves, a mock-up of our mistaken belief about what ancient Greece and Rome looked like). We know better these days, with our post-Enlightenment dedication to reason, science and the study of history, and yet for the sake of some imagined, romanticized past we willfully overlook the evidence of our own time in order to imitate the ignorance of our ancestors. No doubt they they came to worship dead but all-too-human heroes as gods, or imagined the egregore of the tribe or the nation into a protective deity with a power and purpose all its own.

Yet what was an ignorance of unknowing then, clean and innocent and receptive, has become willful and self-serving today. While our ancestors may have thrown up lines of worship towards Spirit like those spiraling, zig-zagging webs of ionized air kicked up by storm, those threads of longing and potential that invite the lightning down[2] — too many Pagans today seem to anchor their worship in deliberate blindness, pretending their willful and repetitive insistence on personified abstracts or flat and half-forgotten mythic figures will make them into gods, if only they're invested with enough offerings, energy and prayer. Of course, this only serves to establish more powerfully those patterns of control, manipulation, irresponsibility and willed idiocy.

Still, we have our own kinds of unknowing today, as clean and innocent and receptive as that of our ancestors. I have heard plenty of Pagans speak of the gods in ways that leave me with no doubt that they have cast their lines into the storm of love and longing and the lightning has answered back. Perhaps the deepest source of our unknowing and ignorance today lives in the land itself, and the movements and rhythms of wildness and wilderness, of cultivation and care. In some ways, long before I felt the touch of Brigid as deity, Mama Earth was my first goddess, and both within and beyond her I feel the stirring of the Many in the way of Spirit. I think maybe there are gods, too, in the mechanisms of human society, in technology and science, lurking in the deep places where we still hesitate to look. We cannot make them or will them into service, but they creep and move around us — in nature, in industry, in land, sea and sky — and it takes a certain foolish courage to call for them, and a certain crippling honesty and of-the-humus humility to let them answer.

[1] For folks living in the Pittsburgh area confused by the next few paragraphs, a note: I began writing this post yesterday but did not have a chance to finish it until today and didn't feel like rewriting all references to the storm "yesterday" to read "the day before yesterday." Yes, I am a lazy writer. But not so lazy as to shirk my responsibility entirely! Praise be to footnotes!

[2] This metaphor requires some insight into exactly how lightning works.


  1. I wasn't familiar with the blog you linked to - (I'm barely familiar with your blog!) but that post reads like a satire. I suppose it is good to be reminded that paganism means many things to many people -- some of it ludicrous.

  2. You have just written about one of the most common, if not most laudable, varieties of religious experience. If you want to read a very, very murky treatment of this philosophical issue, I suggest the novel Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

  3. Ah, but here's the problem: what is invented and what is revealed? If Columbia already existed and manifested through the writings and imaginations of early Americans, then she is not an invention.

    I believe she is a Goddess revealed. If we insist all things be ancient, considering how little information we have about many ancient practices and beliefs, we remain stagnant. Ancient Paganism was a thriving creative place and the Gods themselves were not rigid forms but evolving entities.

    If we are to avoid nationalism and racial pride in our worship then we must abandon many of the old practices and Gods. In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with nationalism and racial pride, it is when they are given a disproportionate weight that they become harmful and dangerous.

    (And if we are to discount poets and leaders due to character flaws or personal tragedy then we would have precious few humans left to honor.)

    Why not sing the praises of our own land? Is it more acceptable to sing of Eire, Alba, Cymry and Albion? Who do we pray to for justice, freedom and equality on American soil? Themis? Ma'at?

    If Columbia is an American Goddess of Liberty then we want to court her, to have her favorable to us. If an egregore, then we need to use her, to bend her to useful ends.

    We have a sluggish Senate, a Gulf in crisis, an economic disaster, an educational morass, an unworkable healthcare system, and a society deeply split on important issues. If we are desperate then we have good reason to be.

    The Roman Empire declined as they turned from the Gods they had contracted with and worked with for centuries and turned towards new exotic religions. I think it's merely wise to turn to Columbia, who may have been the muse of our Founders, if we want to get our country back on track. She has proven fruitful through the efforts of the Lady Liberty League and I can afford to pay her some praise and incense if it does any small good towards correcting the problems of our nation.

  4. Star, Thank you for replying. I had actually forgotten that yours was one of the three posts on Columbia that I linked to, as they all occurred within a short period of time and left an impression on me as a whole.

    At the very beginning of your comment, you say, "Ah, but here's the problem: what is invented and what is revealed?" For me, this is a very important question and one that needs more serious (and honest) thought in our community. It is a question we need to ask of our own experiences of deity and other manifestations of Spirit, but it's also one that, if we are to ask it of our ancestors and historical figures, we must be prepared to answer honestly and thoroughly. I would have less issue with the claim that Columbia was a goddess who revealed herself personally to you in your own recent experiences, for that would be something that we could examine and engage with more immediately, without too much speculation and romanticization interfering. But anytime we claim that a god or goddess revealed themselves to someone else, especially someone no longer alive and so conveniently unable to speak for their own experiences and clarify their own thoughts... I feel we're on much shakier ground.

    My issue with Phyllis Wheatley, for instance, is not that she is a flawed human being who died under tragic (and rather ironic) circumstances... but that we have only the poetry of hers that certain government and military leaders of the time felt was worthy to preserve, for it served their purposes of propaganda and the boosting of troop morale during a time of war. According to Jeff, her second book of poetry was "lost," and for all we know she may have changed her perspective on Columbia drastically. Of course, all of this assumes that she was not merely using the idea of a "goddess" as a literary technique itself, mimicking the use of classical Greek and Roman deities in the poetry of the Romantics (many of whom did not engage in actual worship of such deities and did not experience them as "revealed" and actual gods and goddesses, though there were a few who did) in the same way our government buildings in Washington, D.C. mimic the (erroneous as it turns out) style of ancient Greek buildings - that is, in order to capture and evoke a particular style that imbues the work with gravitas. Since Phyllis Wheatley is no longer living, we cannot ask her about her intentions.

    It is precisely for these reasons that I think our best and most authentic way of exploring polytheism is through our own, living experience of the deities. I agree that restricting our Paganism only to what is ancient is a road to stagnation; yet I believe one aspect of deity is that it is always an experience of living presence in the present, the here-now. Brigid may be an ancient name, but I do not experience her as a long-dead entity, but as a living presence in my current life, relevant to and engaged with my current experiences. Likewise, our relationship with the land and its gods is a living one in the present, for the land is both utterly ancient in comparison to human civilization, and yet ever-new and renewing in its myriad life-forms and ecosystems. If we seek a goddess to worship in this land, what stops us from turning to the land itself as it exists in the very real present, rather than to the propaganda of the past?


  5. ...

    Which is not to say that it is not a noble and possibly useful goal to seek out a figure that can mobilize us to embody and live up to ideals of liberty, freedom and prosperity in our communities. But there remain two objections, from my perspective: (1) I would not choose Columbia and her namesake as such figures, for they are so clearly and unambiguously figures of white European liberty and prosperity at the expense of the native population and the abundant land itself; and (2) if we need such a figure and expect to work effectively with it, we must at least on some level admit that it is an intentional construction or creation of our own goals and ideals projected outward and made more solid through the use of symbolism and imagination, i.e. a thought-form or egregore. Egregores can be incredibly powerful and useful, and are in their own way just as much manifestations of Spirit as deities are. It is not demeaning to acknowledge a figure or being as a thought-form growing out of a group-mind. I believe it only becomes a problem and an obstacle to authentic engagement with Spirit when we mistake one kind of being for another, especially if we do so out of a willful ignorance suited to our own purposes. Plus, you and I will just have to agree to disagree that there is "nothing wrong" with nationalism and racial pride. Ursula Le Guin's quote that I referenced above sums up my feelings on the matter pretty neatly.

    A further note on history: It was my understanding that the Roman Empire began to falter and fail when it turned away from the republic as a political system and instead replaced it with a deified Emperor who demanded the loyalty and worship of all citizens, resulting in a less tolerant attitude towards those who held other religious beliefs or worshipped other deities. I would again caution that deifying America itself in the form of Columbia could so easily result in the same kind of intolerance for any who do not choose to worship her, and that if we criticize Christians for trying to claim the U.S. as a "Christian nation" in the name of Jesus, we should turn at least as critical an eye on our own designs of national deification.

  6. I have to agree with Ali that nationalism and racial pride is unhealthy, and whether or not Columbia is a goddess of our nation or our race, it's not something I'd subscribe to. They are symptoms of humanity's unfortunate urge to divide the world into "us" and "them", and just because our ancestors succumbed to the temptation to indulge in these vices, and imbued their gods with them, is no excuse for us to do the same. The worship of Columbia, it seems to me, is a particularly insidious mixture of nationalism and religion.

  7. I think of Columbia as the Goddess of the land as well as a Goddess of the ideals of American government. I live in the mountains of North Georgia and so for the land I live on the Goddess I reverence is Selu, but then I have Cherokee ancestry.

    Columbia has captured the modern Pagan imagination and I doubt any new construct could win over the community as a whole in quite the same way. True, her very name is associated with genocide perpetrated by white Europeans, but to use that as an argument against her is to do away with anything mythic that has been tainted by the barbaric: Druidry, Diana Nemorensis, Baba Yaga, Cerridwen, Kali, etc...

    To say racial pride is inherently wrong is to say pride in African ancestry is wrong, or pride in Native American ancestry is wrong. National pride is simply another form of tribal pride, which is as old as humanity itself. One can exhibit national pride while being an outspoken critic of one's government. When either of these healthy experessions, "I am proud of my people/tribe/country", become extreme is when they denigrate others. It doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. I can love my country and still think Canada is pretty awesome. I can be proud of my ancestors and still think Asian people and culture are admirable.

    Right, the Romans turned from Jupiter and Quirinus to deified Emperors, Mithras and Isis. The turn from the Gods of the Republic coincided with the rise of Imperialism. The Gods and the values went hand-in-hand.

    I don't think we need to worry that worship of Columbia will result in religious intolerance. Those who are most devoted to her are the people who tend to champion religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. Lady Liberty League has worked with conservative Christian organizations in the past for religious freedom.

  8. Star, I can appreciate where you're coming from, though I don't think we'll ever see perfectly eye to eye on some of these issues.

    One thing I have noticed is twice now you've used the logic that if we dismiss Deity/Egregore X for having negative characteristics y and z, then we have to dismiss any deity with negative characteristics (and thus, practically all of them). I don't particularly see why this is the case.

    Many deities and mythic figures have a certain kind of darkness, mystery or ambivalence in their nature and their stories, and many others have been appropriated to justify harmful or unhealthy behaviors and relationships; this is certainly true. But my objections to Columbia are quite specific, and in part they involve the absence of complexity and ambivalence, in favor of a kind of historical white-washing.

    If the objection is raised, "But you can't just pick and choose!" I have to respond: umm, sure you can. In fact, aren't polytheists in the uniquely fortunate position of being able to pick and choose among myriad deities and beings, without the obligation to worship all or any of them? Monotheists might see the rejection of a god/God as particularly problematic, but I don't see why a polytheist should shy away from speaking frankly about their misgivings when it comes to deity and theology.

    That is all I really mean to do here. Not condemn or dismiss others' beliefs, but to articulate my own misgivings about what seems to me to be a particular kind of oversight or lack of authenticity in the way modern Pagans sometimes approach their gods.

  9. Anne - I actually have read that book, though I realized this morning that it's been almost a decade (which is one reason why my recollection of it is pretty vague). It's definitely one I want to revisit, but then there are so many books I want to revisit, and so many others that I want to read for the firs time... sigh. So many books, so little time.

  10. Thank you for raising the whole God?Not God thing far more articulately than I have managed. This strikes me as core to an animistic paganism, that the world is indeed full of sentience and beings that can be understood in a greater sense of the term "person" that are not deity. I strive to understand deity as having a far more fundamental existence. I’d say that the nature (note I do not say purpose) of Gods is to sustain fundamental aspects of reality and aspects of deities sustain or mediate our experience of reality. Taranis would have been experienced as a God. Animistic house deities not necessarily so... though I think that the distinction becomes blurred. But in these cases it is perfectly fine to form negotiated relationships with household spirits without calling them Gods.

    I do wonder just how much of the luggage that we seem to attach to the word Gods is associated with the layers of Christian culture. I cannot understand the term without reference to a creator deity... in pagan terms this rarely makes sense, so I tend to eschew the use of the term unless it really moves into the areas I refer to above. I can get a God/ess of Time, for example. But I would see a tribe/clam as having a Totem or tutelary spirit, not a tutelary *deity*

  11. Adam, I'm glad others are pondering these issues, too.

    I've come to a similar understanding about gods as "sustaining fundamental aspects of existence," as you mention, and the more I contemplate this idea, the more I feel uncomfortable with certain assumptions about deity that I see casually mentioned by other Pagans sometimes. I very much want to embrace tolerance and diversity, but not if it means anti-intellectualism, and not at the expense of authentic mysticism within the Pagan experience.

    For years now I've struggled to understand polytheism by reading books like Greer's World Full of Gods and York's Pagan Theology, only to be constantly turned off by their basic misunderstanding of monotheism and their apparent rejection of mysticism in favor of a more "magical" approach. It's only with my own growing relationship with the gods that I've been able to articulate some of the reasons why the basic Pagan Gods 101 stuff out there has been so dissatisfying and unhelpful to me. A lot of what's available is "mystification" of the gods and goddesses, making them seem exotic, appealing and almost like spiritual celebrities, with the promise that you might get their autography if you pray hard enough. What I'm interested in is understanding and cultivating an authentic mystic approach to deity in a Pagan context. I have lots still to learn, ponder and experience, though, that's for sure...

  12. I'm looking forward to your "Deity in Druidry" link leading somewhere :) It's an issue that has been a very persistent one with me, though I am nowhere close to being as widely read or as thoughtful as you are.

  13. Argenta - Well, plans are in the works for an essay, but it may be some time before it's up. Like with the first two, I'll definitely be announcing as I put up new pages. So stayed tuned. :)

  14. I have to agree with Star Foster when she (he?) said, "To say racial pride is inherently wrong is to say pride in African ancestry is wrong, or pride in Native American ancestry is wrong." Pride shifts from being a good thing to being a bad thing as we move from being an interconnected community to being a dominant empire. Look at the implications of Irish pride, for example, as Cromwell was laying waste to Ireland in the 1600's, and then when the Irish were a despised immigrant population in Boston, to today when the Boston Irish are the dominant force in the politics of a city that is quite racist in some ways. When Jeff says that nationalism and racial pride are simply bad, across the board, he is speaking with the perspective of a white American, for whom privilege is an uncomfortable but inescapable legacy. That's not true of everyone.

    I love Ali's image of worship reaching up to the true divinity of the Gods like lightning, but the divinity reaches down as well. When you open yourself to Spirit, Spirit responds. Egregores evolve as the Divine fills them, and worship that begins as an intellectual exercise or even as play-acting can become real and experiential and powerfully transforming as the Gods notice us, answer us, and change us. You can put up a lightening rod because you understand lightening, or just because it looks cool, but lightening may strike it either way.

  15. "I love Ali's image of worship reaching up to the true divinity of the Gods like lightning, but the divinity reaches down as well. "

    Peter - I don't know if you followed up on the links about how lightning works, but this was actually part of the reason I chose that metaphor - the connection that's made is made in both directions.

    I am still ambivalent about claims of racial pride. It is too easy, I think, to declare that only a white American uncomfortable with privilege could possibly declare that racial pride is a bad thing, and so to dismiss that view as not having any deeper philosophical implications. For me, "pride" is different from gratitude or appreciation. I can feel grateful for my Irish/Celtic ancestry, for instance, and I can appreciate the unique contributions that culture has made to my life and to the world.... but I do not think this is the same thing as having "pride" in my Irish-ness in the same way I might have pride in a particular accomplishment or achievement.

    Plus, having just returned from a week in Northern Ireland talking about issues of ethnic and racial identity and the roles they played in the conflict... that ambivalence has been strengthened, not diminished. Even our ability to speak about "Irish-ness" or "Native American-ness" or "black-ness" as simply things is glossing over a great deal of complexity and internal tension. It is glaringly obvious to me now, for instance, that the American conception of "Irish-ness" is incredibly un-nuanced and biased towards the Catholic/Republican perspective of the last several decades, and cannot possibly take into account the social and ethnic subtleties very much alive for people living in Northern Ireland, who are viewed by those in the south of Ireland as "too British" and yet are viewed by those living in Britain as "too Irish."

    In some ways, I wonder if racial or ethnic pride is something that really only comes into play in a settler State like America (or Israel), where there is a conscious conflict between one's idealized community identity, and the identity of the actual community in which one lives.